I have been running really far, mostly on trails, for almost 30 years. This is about two thirds of my life. I can’t really recall a time before I ran. As a teenager I ran for exercise, to feel free (of expectations), to manage stress that came with striving to be a perfect over-achiever, to forget that I had been an overweight child, to develop love for and confidence in my body, to discover my surprising strength. I ran through devastating disappointments and a Great Sadness. I ran to create routine and discipline in a life that lacked those things when I was a student. I ran to regain perspective and to recalibrate when I needed to do so. I ran to eradicate the crazy and in order to maintain my “no dead bodies” streak when I was on maternity leave and again when I had to leave my child to go back to work. I ran to occupy that gender free zone that I have never experienced anywhere else. I ran to connect with friends because none of us had time for coffee dates. And somewhere along the way I started to realize that I ran for joy. Later, maybe a decade into running, I also realised that the rhythm of running made it meditative and effortless and running became a portal into a spiritual space for me. This usually happened when I was running alone and somewhere beautiful but it was random and could happen anywhere with anyone or in the middle of a race involving 1000’s of strangers. At some further point I realised that accessing this portal had become a deliberate act which I controlled. I could make it happen whenever I needed to just by lacing up my running shoes. It didn’t take hours necessarily. And I found with a shock of surprise and gratitude that running was my direct access into the holy of holies, the very presence of God. When I ran I felt God’s pleasure. It’s really as simple as that. And as beautiful. When I ran I could easily connect with gratitude and joy and purpose. The exercise part is really just a by-product.
Of course, running is not the only thing that makes me grateful or gives me joy and purpose, but it is the gateway to the space that allows me to instantly recognize those things. I am sure there are other ways to do this, but running is my way and the way I have been honing for 30 years. So having established that I have a bizarre overuse injury in my pelvis (from running, obv) and being forced to rest from running for three months or more, I’m being less than gracious. (And slightly more inclined towards assault.)
Consequently, when all the Silver Liners say “but at least you can ride/swim/paddle/ whatever” I experience violent thoughts, although the poor souls mean so well. It’s like telling a Van Gogh* (who sadly can no longer paint) to cheer up because he can do singing/Morris Dancing/ similar.
And of course its better that I can exercise. I would be miserable if I couldn’t. But the thing is the exercise part addresses about 5% of why I need to run. Maybe if I had been riding or swimming for 30 years and it had become effortless and second nature and I was able to slip into a rhythm it would be entirely different. But I am too busy trying not to die in the pool to achieve enlightenment. It does not feel like second nature to me. It feels like a manatee or a walrus. On land. It feels like a disabled chain smoker being forced to do 100m sprints. I heave my strangely un-buoyant body from one end of the pool to the other in a series of agonised convulsions. I clutch the edge in utter relief, ugly-gasping for breath until I recover enough to set off again. Every length is an ordeal. And cycling, as much as I try, (and its been years now), I just can’t work up the enthusiasm. I know I am aerobically fit and have all the mechanical necessities to ride like a Rockstar, but I just cant quite translate it into anything that wouldn’t be described as a pitiful. If there was a cycling prize for endeavor I would get that.
It’s been one month now. I will be missing Wartrail with Pete and Don this week end, and the Addo 100 Miler with my friend, Altie. I could weep. I am obsessively obeying my Biokineticist, and working away tirelessly at the rehabilitation of my traitorous pelvis as if it is forced labour. There is no talk of parole. I feel as if I have been banished to the no-running-wilderness or outer Siberia. Two months to go.
*(Please note that I don’t believe my running to be comparable to the genius of VG’s painting. I’m just trying to illustrate a point.)